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Aerial Photography

Aerial Photography

Aerial photography is a digital image or analogue (film) photograph collected by a camera on an aeroplane or on a highrise. Aerial photography provides a bird’s eye view of the earth’s surface and is used in a variety of applications, such as mapping, planning, tourism, landcare and environmental management. A few simple tips can make a difference between someone who has just begun photography and someone who is well on their way to take pictures like a professional. Today, I will show you how you can walk this distance in a few easy steps. Read on!

Don’t Follow the Rules Blindly

Photography is an art and is also a craft. The rules only set a framework of how things work and don’t work, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow these rules without a thought in the world. In fact, breaking the rules can make a picture even better. But still, think before you click. Understanding the rules helps get a better picture. The idea is to get to the stage where you do some of these things instinctively and that happens when you start to move away from the rules and become more creative!

Think of Giving Perspective

Low altitude photography can give off a unique perspective on the world. For example, how about taking an aerial picture of an amusement park that gives a wide angled view to every visitor from the south? The layout of the various buildings within that view become more obvious. Strong oblique sunshine accentuates the fort-like structures and the earth mound the park sits on. This makes the park stand out more from the foreground.

Places and Patience

What kind of pictures should you take? Well, what looks good from the air is something you have to learn. Sometimes the simplest objects can look stunning, but stunning objects can still look boring. Look at other people’s galleries and translate them into ideas in your locality. One combination that works is the mix of an impossible angle, a simple subject and a strong color. Yes, the roof really is that shade of green! You will spend several hours on a shoot, so pick your subjects carefully and be patient. Wait for the right wind and weather, even the right time of day for sun angles, before returning for the shoot. It’s always useful to keep a list of potential sites on hand too, so you can opt for plan B if plan A isn’t working out due to bad weather or lighting, for example.

Look for Symmetry

There is a pleasure in order and symmetry; even if the symmetry is made up of logically unconnected parts of the picture. They do however, help lead you between the different parts of the picture. Generally, the landscape format is considered more soothing and the portrait layout is more tense. Most automatic cameras have scene modes that showcase the symmetry through lines. Just look at these lines on your scene mode before composing your shots. This leads to creating a line in the picture. More conventionally, it could be a road, track, fence or wall that will add a “come here” look to your picture. Remember, these templates can be mirrored and inversed to suit your image. Also, the lines could be any feature on the image or indeed, they could be features from the foreground and background that happen to be in line. It could be a street light, a hill, a river or even a row of trees.

Sun, Shade and Impossible Angles

The sun is an aerial photographer’s best friend. It accentuates height through casting shadows and offering shading on vertical surfaces. It allows for improved contrast and 3D effects through strong shadows. Try to keep the whole shadow in the frame and if possible, use the morning or evening light for long shadows and richer colors. Don’t be frightened to shoot with the sun at 90 degrees to the camera. With the more interesting angles directly into the sun, it’s difficult to control exposure. One more rule: you shouldn’t cut shadows off the edge of the frame, even though it’s sometimes difficult to achieve. But no harm in trying!

Also, attempt to take horizontal close-ups of say, a tower. Show enough of the tower to set it in context and set the camera’s position in an unattainable space. Along with angles, let me give you a word of advice about the horizon. Keeping it flat is difficult, but this can make all the difference. Although the horizon can be reset in the computer, gross errors result in severe loss, as the picture is cropped back to square. With the horizon in shot, try not to break it with an occasional tree or building, unless they are on the horizon. Even in images without the horizon visible, there are no excuses. Try to keep verticals vertical, unless the content of the picture is abstract and there is no natural sense of “up.” For example, the image is looking straight down.

Neat and Tidy

Try not to cut shadows off at the edge of the shot and try not to add intrusions into the frame either. Keep the edges plain and simple and keep the areas of interest within the frame. Sometimes, if you are taking a picture of say, a castle, the stone wall and gate could be an unwelcome addition to the shot. Paths and roads can be used to lead you into the picture, but the gate could be a distraction. Try to keep the shot tidy and don’t leave things lying around. But also, ensure your shadow is not included in the shot. It’s normally considered unforgivable, unless you have an artistic point to make. And if you do want your shadow to be there, try and appear like a hunched figure. Also, there is usually enough time to look up as you press the shutter and to look down after the picture is taken.

Celebrate the Difference

Just one more rule of thumb. The difference between a good and bad photographer is that the good photographer doesn’t show you their bad pictures. Also, always carry a stable tripod for this kind of landscape work. Spend a long time selecting the scene and composing the picture. When you compose the picture, you do the best you can and then shoot off lots of digital images. Then once back on the computer, you can use your instinct to select, crop, edit and stitch an image. Purists will argue that the post-processing stage on the computer isn’t in the spirit of photography, but remember, it is all a part of the art, craft and fun of aerial photography.


~ Zahid H. Javali